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‘Fire tornado’ kills dozens at Algerian zoo as raging forest blaze ‘sweeps everything in seconds’

A horror ‘fire tornado’ has killed at least 38 people in Algeria after it ripped through a wildlife park and burned 12 people trying to escape flames on a bus.

Fueled by drought and a blistering heat wave, the fires have left enormous havoc, mainly in the El Tarf region near the eastern border with Tunisia, which was baking in 48C heat.

A family of five was among the dead and at least 200 people have suffered burns or breathing problems from the smoke, according to various Algerian media.

A journalist in El Tarf described “scenes of devastation” on the road to El Kala in the far northeast of the country.

“A tornado of fire wiped everything out in seconds,” he told AFP by phone. “Most of those who died were surrounded while visiting a wildlife park.”

A horror 'fire tornado' has killed at least 38 people in Algeria after it ripped through a wildlife park, burning 12 people trying to escape from a burning bus

A horror ‘fire tornado’ has killed at least 38 people in Algeria after it ripped through a wildlife park, burning 12 people trying to escape from a burning bus

An animal burned by forest fires in El Kala, in Al Tarf province, northeast of Algeria

An animal burned by forest fires in El Kala, in Al Tarf province, northeast of Algeria

An animal burned by forest fires in El Kala, in Al Tarf province, northeast of Algeria

Among the dead was a family of five and at least 200 people have suffered burns or breathing problems from the smoke

Among the dead was a family of five and at least 200 people have suffered burns or breathing problems from the smoke

Among the dead was a family of five and at least 200 people have suffered burns or breathing problems from the smoke

Algerian firefighters battled a series of fires today, fueled by drought and a blistering heat wave

Algerian firefighters battled a series of fires today, fueled by drought and a blistering heat wave

Algerian firefighters battled a series of fires today, fueled by drought and a blistering heat wave

Wildfires in the forests of eastern Algeria have killed at least 38 people and injured hundreds more

Wildfires in the forests of eastern Algeria have killed at least 38 people and injured hundreds more

Wildfires in the forests of eastern Algeria have killed at least 38 people and injured hundreds more

A view shows a damaged amusement park after a forest fire in El Kala, Al Tarf . Province

A view shows a damaged amusement park after a forest fire in El Kala, Al Tarf . Province

A view shows a damaged amusement park after a forest fire in El Kala, Al Tarf . Province

Emergency services were still fighting a fire around Lake Tonga, he said.

An AFP team in El Kala reported a strong smell of smoke and said authorities feared strong winds could spark new fires.

They also saw extensive damage in the wildlife park and a witness, who asked not to be named, said 12 people had been burned in their bus while trying to escape.

Several roads in the area were closed.

“Most of the victims in El Tarf are holidaymakers who came to enjoy paradisiacal beaches and enchanting landscapes,” Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane said.

He and several members of the government arrived in El Tarf on Thursday. The prime minister said the Algerian state would support the families of the victims and pay for renovation works and compensation for the loss of livestock and beehives. The region is also known for its agricultural industry.

As residents have lost their homes to the flames, authorities are accused of being ill-prepared, with few firefighting planes available, despite record deaths in last year’s fires.

The Ministry of Justice has launched an investigation into the possibility that some of the fires were deliberately lit, following comments to that effect from Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud.

Algerian farmer Hamdi Gemidi checks his charred animals on his farm on the outskirts of the town of el-Tarf

Algerian farmer Hamdi Gemidi checks his charred animals on his farm on the outskirts of the town of el-Tarf

Algerian farmer Hamdi Gemidi checks his charred animals on his farm on the outskirts of the town of el-Tarf

Residents walk past a charred truck in El Kala, in the El Tarf region, near the northern Algerian-Tunisian border

Residents walk past a charred truck in El Kala, in the El Tarf region, near the northern Algerian-Tunisian border

Residents walk past a charred truck in El Kala, in the El Tarf region, near the northern Algerian-Tunisian border

Algerian men check a charred bus in which at least 12 people are said to have died after raging fires

Algerian men check a charred bus in which at least 12 people are said to have died after raging fires

Algerian men check a charred bus in which at least 12 people are said to have died after raging fires

A view shows a damaged amusement park after a forest fire in El Kala, Al Tarf . Province

A view shows a damaged amusement park after a forest fire in El Kala, Al Tarf . Province

A view shows a damaged amusement park after a forest fire in El Kala, Al Tarf . Province

One person died in Souk Ahras, south of El Tarf. Two other people died in the region of Setif, about 185 miles east of Algiers, the capital of the North African country.

A journalist described panic scenes in the city of half a million people, where nearly 100 women and 17 newborn babies had to be evacuated from a hospital near the forest.

Algerian television showed people fleeing their burning houses, women with children in their arms. According to local media, 350 people had fled their homes.

According to the fire service, some 39 fires ravaged various parts of northern Algeria, and it was feared that hot winds could spark new ones that authorities are unable to fight.

Rows of trucks carrying food, water, blankets and clothing were seen heading towards El Tarf. A crisis unit was set up to monitor the donations, Bensalem said.

The scenes raised fears of a repeat of fires last year that killed at least 90 people and destroyed 100,000 hectares of forest and farmland in the north of the country.

Burnt trees and a bus are pictured after a forest fire in El Kala, Al Tarf province, Algeria

Burnt trees and a bus are pictured after a forest fire in El Kala, Al Tarf province, Algeria

Burnt trees and a bus are pictured after a forest fire in El Kala, Al Tarf province, Algeria

Some 39 fires destroyed several parts of northern Algeria, according to firefighters

Some 39 fires destroyed several parts of northern Algeria, according to firefighters

Some 39 fires destroyed several parts of northern Algeria, according to firefighters

An AFP team in El Kala reported a strong smell of smoke and said authorities feared strong winds could spark new fires

An AFP team in El Kala reported a strong smell of smoke and said authorities feared strong winds could spark new fires

An AFP team in El Kala reported a strong smell of smoke and said authorities feared strong winds could spark new fires

Last year’s catastrophe sparked bitter criticism from authorities over the lack of fire-fighting aircraft.

Authorities have leased a Russian Beriev BE 200 water bomber aircraft, but it has broken down and is not expected to be operational again until Saturday, Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud said.

The civil defense service and the army do have several fire fighting helicopters at their disposal.

Experts have called for a major effort to bolster the firefighting capacity of Africa’s largest country, which has more than four million hectares of forest.

A specialist, who declined to be named, told AFP that the country had 22 Grumman planes to fight forest fires in the 1980s, but that they had been “sold for little money, with no alternative solution being proposed.” .

Algeria had agreed to buy seven fire-fighting planes from the Spanish company Plysa, but canceled the contract at the end of June after a diplomatic row over Western Sahara, according to specialist website Mena Defense.

106 fires have broken out in Algeria since early August, destroying 800 hectares of forest and 1800 hectares of forest, according to Beldjoud, who said some were caused by arson.

In a message of condolence, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune expressed his solidarity with the victims. He said the Algerian state would use “all human and material resources” to fight the fires and that families of people who have died or whose homes have been affected “will receive compensation”.

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